Schedule
      NEW: Locate Your Loved One
 

Rabbi Fruendel of the Georgetown Synagogue Kesher Israel tells how the tradition of being buried in a shroud began.

Rabbi Fruendel says the source of the tradition is a tale in the Talmud of the most important Rabbi from the end of the first and the beginning of the second centuries. Rabbam Gamliel insisted that he be buried clothed in this way.

His reason for doing so was that people had been burying their dead in fancier and fancier garmets, causing the poor to be embarrassed or even to abandon dead relatives and leave them unburied. The Rabbam Gamliel did this by requiring that he be buried in this fashion with the simple garments (the shrouds) and when his students saw this they followed suit which influenced all the people to do the same.

Some Rabbi's allow the deceased to be buried in their clothes to comply with family wishes.

Rabbi Zemel of Temple Micah tells of the tradition of standing at a Shiva service.

At a recent shiva service in Potomac, the Rabbi told the following story about Rabbi Zemel.

"Rabbi Zemel noticed that all the people were standing and it reminded him of his officiating the first time at a shiva service. He went to a home in an area of Chicago much like Potomac, MD and there everyone was sitting comfortably on the couch or on lounge chairs. When he returned to the synagogue, he asked his boss how come everyone was seated. His boss told him as his first assignment he could research this. Rabbi Zemel then told of how in the olden days peoples homes were very small and in order to hold a shiva service in ones home the women would leave and the men would crowd into the home and in order to fit they would stand, thus the tradition to stand at a service started."

Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman of Kol Shalom Congregation relates the story of the Tradition of "Why Stones are Placed on the Grave."

Why do we place stones on a grave? For most of us stones conjure a harsh image. It does not seem the appropriate memorial for one who had died. But stones have a special character in Judaism; in the Bible an altar is no more than a pile of stones, but it is on an altar that one offers to G-d.

The stone of which Abraham takes his son to be sacrificed is even called "hashtuyal", "the foundation stone of the world." the sacred shrine in Judaism, after all, is the pile of stones - the wall of the second Temple.

In the words of the popular Israeli song "There are men with hearts of stone, and stone with the hearts of men."

So why place stones on the grave? The explanations vary from superstitious to poignant. The superstitious rationale for stones is that they keep the soul down. There is a belief, with roots in the Talmud, that souls continue to dwell for a while in graves in which they are placed. The grave, called a "beit olam," (a "permanent house") was thought to retain some aspect of the departed soul; means by which the living help the dead to "stay put". Even souls which are benign in life can, in the folk imagination, take on a certain terror in death. The "barrier" on the grave prevents the kind of haunting that formed such an important part of the Eastern European lore. The story of I.B. Singer and the plays of Yiddish Theatre are rich in the mythology of Eastern European Jewry; souls who returned for whatever reason to the world of the living. One explanation of stones on the grave is to ensure that souls remain where they belong.


NEXT: Judean Memorial Gardens Photo Tour



JUMP TO:

Burial in a Shroud
Standing at a Shiva Service
Why Stones are Placed on the Grave

BACK TO TOP